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Need for Speed! Increase your Productivity

Dec 3, 2011 by     14 Comments    Posted under: Time Management
 
Productivity

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” Paul J. Meyer

It is very important to learn the secrets of increasing productivity. Time is the most valuable asset in this life. Proper utilization of time (or this asset) you can get any other asset in this life (or even after life!).

In this short post, I will highlight only one tip and a thought about productivity. Yes, only one idea – this is enough if we understand and apply it.

First let me introduce a nice and profound definition of productivity: Productivity = Value/ Time. Notice the VALUE term. It is important that you produce value and not just producing efforts, consuming time, or actions without real value.

I want to highlight a thought about illusion of multitasking. A misleading idea that if you want to increase your productivity is to be a multitasking processor. In other words, you need to carry out multiple tasks at same time. Surf the net, read an article, listen to music, and have a discussion with your kids. With all of these activities you feel (or imagine) that you have a high productivity. Unfortunately, you are not adding a value in any of these tasks.

Although human brain has the capability of considering several dimensions at the same time for a specific subject. The magic number of dimensions is ranging between 5 and 9 (it is 7 plus or minus +/-2) as mentioned by psychology science. This is applied for a single task with several objects and considerations.

The reality is that you need to be single-minded and focusing on specific task. Here the skill of prioritizing tasks comes to the picture. Proper prioritization and estimation of task duration is crucial for increasing productivity.

If we recall how operating systems work to carry out multitasking, several algorithms exist that rely on task (or program) preemption. Where the processor executes portions of programs and switch to another program to execute another portion and so on. Then it returns back to the first one in a round robin fashion across those programs. This gives the feeling (for users) that computer runs executing several programs at same time.

Some version of preemption algorithms starts and finalizes shortest tasks first based on estimated execution duration. Other algorithms allocate specific time quota for each program based on their priorities and processor spent this pre-allocated time executing each program. (Please do not confuse this with parallel processing which is another story!)

Applying these concepts with your brain, you can simulate the multitasking. Be careful that the difference between processor and your mind is the speed of switching time and setup required between tasks. Processor just uploads the program code into memory, adjust its instruction pointers and registers and resume execution. However, your brain needs to recall the context of the task and consider current state before resumption. In all cases, you need to focus on one task with full mind attention. This is much more productive than the illusion of carrying multiple tasks at same time.

Let me summarize the technique of multitasking in few bullets:

1- Set priorities to your tasks,

2- Classify tasks into the quadrant of (Important Not Important and Urgent Not Urgent),

3- Start with tasks in square of Urgent Important (since they are not questionable and cannot be delegated),

4- Try to delegate Urgent Not Important tasks (if possible) or do it yourself,

5- Estimate duration of each task in the square (Important Not Urgent)

6- Eliminate or delegate the tasks in square (Not Important Not Urgent),

7- Focus on the urgent and important tasks one at a time,

8- Sharpen your skills of switching between tasks (this is a key differentiator between one person and another – remember processor efficiency in doing that). How fast and still-focused  you can switch between tasks, determines your productivity and your speed.

I hope this helps.

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14 Comments + Add Comment

  • Hi Mohamed

    Good to see you blogging! These are always interesting topics.

    I have a very simple piece of advice for people in need of a productivity ‘tune up’. The simple advice is to make a list every morning of the day’s goals and tasks. Keep the list close by, cross things off the list as they get done and if you must add new things to the list. I have tried using software to keep my lists, but I find paper still works the best.

    So make a list!

    Jeff

     
    • Hi Jeff – it is very nice to get in touch!
      yes this is a good advice – always old is gold at the time of tablets and clouds.

      thanks a lot for sharing

       
  • very nice and interesting post especially tasks classification part, which made me remember the time management matrix which was illustrated by Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he classified tasks into four quadrants “Urgent and Important, not Urgent but Important, Urgent but not Important, and not Urgent not Important” so we must stay out of quadrant three and four because, urgent or not, they aren’t important, so i think quadrant two [not Urgent but Important] is the heart of effective personal management because most people stuck in other quadrants of not important tasks but urgent.

     
    • good understanding mohamed – the challenging part is in applying those concepts but understanding them is the first step on the road thru practice you will master. keep good word and good luck!

       
  • […] Need for Speed! Increase your Productivity (itbok.wordpress.com) […]

     
  • Very nice post Mohamed. Time management is one of the important aspect that affect productivity. Although – at first glance – everyone think that he is already productive and manage his time effectively but reading this carefully may guide a lot of people to avoide the ‘illusion’ of multitasking.
    I liked much structure and presentment of your idea. keep up the good work.

     
    • Thanks Zaki for encouraging comment. We need to share our experience, thoughts, and ideas otherwise they will remain imprisoned in the brain waiting for the birth moment!

       
  • Dear Mohammed,
    It is a very good post, but I disagree to the CPU vs. Brain comparison context. From an “Ejadian” point-of –view multi-tasking is a corner stone strategy in projects execution. Let me elaborate more details.
    If I’m a system analyst then I may run analysis sessions for 5 or 6 systems (multi-tasking), which give the customer an impression that 5 or 6 streams are running concurrently while only one resource is utilized (smashed?)
    In addition to this marketing/resource utilization, there are more benefits such as:
    1- Usually we deliver drafts versions first then go into refining cycles, it would be better and more practical to deliver a version of the document for each system and start enhancements cycles in a round robin fashion. That would be much better than enhancing a single document till the end then start with another document.
    2- Usually there is a latency time from the customer till come back with required info/feedback, instead of keeping the resource idle till next session engaging him in another task will outpost resource utilization and hence productivity.
    Last point; the success of multi-tasking in human depends much on the job time. As human we cannot switch run jobs for milliseconds – as CPUs- then shift to another task. From my experience the minimum time unit for a job before moving to another task is 3 hours. That would ensure we have achieved something with the current task before moving to another task.
    Conclusion:
    The success of human multi-tasking is dependent on the time unit allocated to each task. This time unit must be relevant to the total expected time to completely finish a job.
    Other factors such as priority and urgency may interfere job execution schedule and should be considered once realized.

    Thanks.

     
    • Thanks Hatem a lot for valuable comment and catalytic elaboration.

      The analogy I made between CPU and human brain is from conceptual level not from speed or capability. Brain speed is much less than CPU but human brain capability is much more CPU.

      CPU has a great advantage of focusing on current task without other active tasks disturbing him.
      This is what I need THE FOCUS on NOW moment. You can work in a task for 30 minutes with high focus like playing with your kids. Or as per your example you can for an hour on a project stream with high focus and then switch to another stream for 2 hours and so on. The concept
      I am discussing is in research and can reach for 15 min in length (or even less) for each task.

      Of course this needs much practice to control your focus also the capability of fast switching between tasks. This is a key differentiator of performance from one to other. At the end, you will appear as a multi-tasking man with high efficiency.

      The secret here is the focus on NOW.

      I hope I clarified the point.
      Thanks a lot.

       
  • There are no shortage of ‘experts’ that claim to know the secret of maximum productivity. At first someone will swear that the only way to really get things done is to multi-task: more done, less time. Then immediately someone will counter that it’s far simpler, more effective and rewarding and ultimately more ‘zen’ to do one task at a time: single-tasking.

     
  • Nice one Mohamed, I believe many of us have some sort of ‘procrastination’ disease, that directly hit our productivity. This is well described by Wikipedia as ‘the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. ‘ I believe this happens because we feel high priority tasks are more difficult, will require more efforts, or we don’t have clear plan to finish them, so we choose to delay them, and bring some of those from the other ‘quadrants’ to the front of the queue.

     
    • thanks Geo – this is a nice catch from you and this is really true. Also the illusion of importance and urgency is a factor for time wasters.
      We need to challenge every assignment – shall I do this? what happens if it is delayed? Could this task be delegated? Could it be eliminated?
      I believe if we could answer this we may have a better view about importance and urgency. Thanks a lot for sharing.

       
  • This makes me remember IBM processors how it work with memory, specially the “Priority queue” algorithm.

     
    • Yes very much – those basic algorithms still utilized till now. What I described is the preemptive multitasking vs the legacy cooperative multitasking where programs were designed to wait each other.
      It is nice to have such analogy from our background and to apply them in our present situations. thanks a lot.

       

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